WATCH: The big role Portsmouth apprentices played in the HMS Queen Elizabeth project
WEARING blue overalls 22-year-old Sam Lockwood sits confidently in front of a window that will soon be dominated by the grey hull of HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The aspiring engineer – who has been an apprentice with BAE Systems for six years – has just been told he will part of the maintenance team working on Britain’s new flagship.
It is the dream job for the hard-working lad from Fareham, who left school at 16 to start his apprenticeship with the defence giant at Portsmouth Naval Base.
‘This has all come about in the last couple of months really,’ he says, relaxing back into his office seat overlooking part of the Princess Royal Jetty.
‘I remember applying for the job thinking, “I don’t know if I’ve got the right qualifications for the job”.
‘But when I got offered the job I was ecstatic to find out I was going to be part of the first large-scale carrier we have built in years.
‘I get to work on her and provide maintenance to her and be the liaison between the navy and BAE Systems
‘The fact that as a country we have been able to build two massive carriers like that – the biggest that this country has ever built – is a massive engineering achievement.
‘And for someone like me who is only 22, I’m looking at this carrier thinking, “That’s a job for life”.’
He oozes confidence as he talks enthusiastically about how he has developed with BAE and pushed himself to seize every opportunity.
Those speaking to him would never know he had been – in his own words – written off by his teachers during primary school.
‘They basically told my parents that I wouldn’t amount to a lot because I took a bit of time to understand things,’ he reflects with a wry smile on his face.
‘But as soon as I got to secondary school that all changed.
‘I passed all my GCSEs with an A to C grade and no-one expected it.
‘Getting all that up until I was 16 and seeing where I have come now and doing college work (with BAE) and having aspirations to go onto a degree.
‘When I was 16 I never would have thought, “Wow, I’m going to be part of one of the biggest carriers ever built for this country”. It’s very surreal.’
As well as having a mum who pushed him, Sam credits his confidence to the dedicated tuition of his apprenticeship course leaders.
Working full days, he was forced to complete a course which at college would have taken just over two years in little more than eight months.
But he said the experience with the defence giant has been one that he is eternally grateful.
As well as operating on a number of Royal Navy warships, Sam has had the opportunity to see parts of the world he would never have dreamt of going to.
In June he came back from a three-month stint in Saudi Arabia helping to maintain the three Royal Navy minehunters based in the oil-rich nation.
‘It’s been a really good experience for someone like me, a young, aspiring engineer,’ he says.
BAE has one of Britain’s largest apprenticeship schemes going.
In Portsmouth alone, the firm is recruiting almost 50 new apprentices next month as part of its latest intake.
Last year the company took on a record 142 higher and degree-level apprentices as part of a wider recruitment of more than 680 apprentices.
At Portsmouth there are a variety of opportunities available for aspiring apprentices, from engineering advanced apprenticeships (craft) and higher engineering schemes, to a project management scheme and engineering technician (higher) training roles.
To nurture the skills of BAE’s future workforce, the defence firm recently invested £2.4m in a new skills development centre.
The facility, which is tucked away inside the expansive site of Portsmouth Naval Base, will provide training to existing employees and apprentices.
More than 4,000 employees will be trained at the upgraded education hub over the next four years to maintain and develop their skills to support the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
As well as providing training for staff and apprentices, BAE Systems is also eager to promote the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects across schools in Portsmouth.
Michael Hodgson is one of BAE Systems STEM ambassadors.
The 22-year-old joined as an apprentice in 2011 straight from school and is now part of the team working to prepare HMS Queen Elizabeth’s sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales for service.
He said working for BAE had helped him to buy his first home in Portsmouth and that he was eager to encourage others to follow in his footsteps.
‘STEM is massively important,’ says Michael, wearing a sharp suit with his BAE Systems ID card dangling from his neck.
‘I have been lucky with the people that I have worked for. You are really looked after.
‘The more people we can get into STEM the better.
‘At the moment it’s the year of the navy. We have got the Type 26 frigates on order and being made up in Scotland and we’ve got new submarines being made.
‘It’s a growing industry. It’s an industry that is only going to get bigger. The last captain of the ship hasn’t even been born yet so we are going to need people that are going to look after her for the next 50 years.
‘The dockyard is right on your doorstep especially if you’re living in Portsmouth so if you’re interested in engineering there’s not many bigger engineering projects on the coast.’
Leslie-Ann George was one of those on BAE System’s graduate scheme.
The 25-year-old completed a degree in law and business management before taking on a masters in oil and gas enterprise management.
Looking to join the working world, Leslie-Ann soon spotted the role at BAE and seized her opportunity.
She joined the company in November last year before becoming part of the team dealing with the Queen Elizabeth class in March.
Now she is part of the project management team, and is helping to make sure people have the right skills to work on the ship during maintenance periods.
‘There were definitely a lot of challenges to overcome,’ she says. ‘There was a lot to learn but I got support from the team.
‘But I’m looking forward to seeing everything I have been working on coming to life; seeing all the personnel I have been working with to make sure that they are suitably qualified, all the tools I have been creating to make sure that they actually are up to scratch – that’s going to be rewarding for me.’
Steve Bantock has also been part of the graduate scheme and is now a senior project controller.
Initially commuting from his former home in Brighton before moving to Portsmouth a couple of years ago, he has been part of the project management team on the QEC project for two years.
Speaking of why he wanted to join BAE, the 28-year-old says: ‘At the time it was going to be the biggest game in town and I wanted to be a part of the programme that BAE Systems had to offer, to go from the design phase of the ship to delivery.’
He adds everyone at the naval base is excited to see the ship coming into Portsmouth for the first time and that it was going to be a big moment for BAE Systems and the city.
‘Pompey has been buzzing since I moved here two years ago – and not just because I moved here,’ he says.
‘There’s loads of things going on here; the football club is doing really well having been promoted, you’ve got festivals going on along the seafront.
‘HMS Queen Elizabeth will be a real pull for Pompey. It’s a real celebration really of what Portsmouth is capable of doing and what the company can do.’